Subic Bay was the site of one of the largest US Navy bases in Asia, Subic Naval Base. With the American pullout after the Mt. Pinatubo eruption in 1992, it has since been converted into a major Philippine commercial import-export processing zone, and is the Fed-Ex transshipment hub for Asia. Contrary to BelDion's WU under Subic, the nearby town is Olongapo City; Subic is the name of the harbor itself.
It is about two hours by car, north of Manila, and used to be a favorite shopping and tourism center (until the duty-free shops started closing down under the Estrada administration). Several electronics and garments companies (notably Acer) also operate manufacturing plants in the former base, though these have been closing down due to the economic recession around the turn of the millenium.
First surveyed by Spanish explorers in 1572, Subic is a natural deep-water harbor with several sheltered anchorages. The Spanish Naval Commission authorized the construction of the "arsenal at Olongapo" in 1885, as well as fortifications on Grande Island, which guards the mouth of the bay.
Unfortunately, these fortifications (especially the Krupp guns on Grande Island) had not yet been finished when the Spanish-American War broke out. Rear Admiral Don Patricio Montojo y Pasaron
was forced to withdraw his fleet from Subic and head for Manila. This fleet was annihilated by Commodore George Dewey's US Asiatic Squadron in Manila Bay on May 1, 1898. Upon inspection of the captured facilities, Dewey declared Subic as "having no equal in the Philippine Islands".
As the Philippine American War broke out, Subic was seized two months later by Filipino soldiers under Admiral Vicente Catalan, but was quickly recaptured by American troops. The US lost no time in rebuilding the Spanish naval facilities.
Subic Naval Station became operational in 1904, serving as a base of operations for the US Asiatic Fleet. It also housed the largest US Marine Corps training facility in the world at that time. However, President Theodore Roosevelt failed to convince Congress to devote funds to develop Subic, and Pearl Harbor in Hawaii is selected instead.
When WWII broke out, the Japanese quickly advanced across Luzon; in December 1941, the 4th Marine Regiment withdrew to Bataan, and the USS New York and the Dewey Drydock is scuttled to prevent them from falling into Japanese hands. The Japanese then use Subic as a monitoring facility and supply port for most of the war.
General Douglas MacArthur's return in 1944, and the intensive bombing campaign on Luzon destroyed most usable facilities in Subic; but the base is recaptured in January 1945 and reactivated. One year after the granting of Philippine independence in 1946, the RP-US Bases Agreement was signed, giving the USA 99 years of rent-free use of 16 military installations across the country, which included both Subic and the civil administration of the nearby town of Olongapo.
Municipal control of Olongapo City was turned over to the Philippine government in 1959. Subic Base played a vital role in supporting the Vietnam War, and became the top R&R facility in the Far East. Prostitution and PX goods became Olongapo City's prime sources of income.
Olongapo City and Angeles City (Angeles was the city near Clark Air Base) soon became synonymous with red light districts and strip bars. Poor women flocked to Subic from all over the provinces, hoping to make enough dollars to send back home (and hopefully, snag a serviceman for a husband). Unfortunately, most US servicemen had no intention of marrying a local, and hundreds of Amerasians living in Olongapo to this day are their legacy.
In 1966, the Ramos-Rusk Agreement shortened the bases' stay in the Philippines to 25 years. With the People Power revolution in 1986, and the new 1987 Philippine Constitution, a transitory provision called for removal of the bases by 1992. One year before the deadline expires, the Philippine government was still not sure if the US would agree to pull out, as Subic was still being used to support the Gulf War in Desert Shield and Desert Storm.
The eruption of Pinatubo on June 15, 1991, changed all that; Clark Air Base in Pampanga was heavily damaged, and military personnel were evacuated to Subic and Guam. The Philippine Senate was emboldened enough to reject a new treaty in September 1991, and Subic is formally turned over to the Aquino government the next year, after 94 years of American military presence in the Philippines.
Subic after the Americans
Subic Naval Base included the following facilities:
All of these have since been converted into tourist spots and light industrial parks. Most of the bars in Olongapo have since shut down; the girls have either gotten employment in the factories, as tour guides, or gone to Manila to ply their trade.
Subic Bay Naval Base - Revisited (http://www.subicbaypi.com/)
The Subic Bay Homepage (http://www.suayan.com/suayan/archive/subic/) - maintained by my friend Kyo Suayan